Somatic Resistance

If I am unaware of my own body’s control and the patterns that it uses to protect itself and to maintain power over others… how can I understand other aspects of the oppression of others? If I cannot understand in my own body how to let go of power-over (whether it be power over my self or power over others) how can I understand how to help in oppressive situations?

by Sarah-Lu

Recently, I hosted an all-staff meeting for the teachers that work at Tulip Tree Preschool. Originally it was planned to be an all-staff that was focused on Anti-Bias Education (ABE). And in my mind, it ended up being that in the end as well.

In actuality, the session was focused on a somatic practice called the Alexander Technique- something that I have been exposed to over the past year through practitioners such as Tahni Holt of FLOCK; Linda K JohnsonSuniti Dernovsek; and Rebecca Harrison. Most recently I have joined the trainees at the Contemporary Alexander School under the direction of Robyn Avalon.

As I was planning the staff meeting on ABE I was moved instead to share a somatic practice based in Alexander, with the teachers. Some of the teachers had experienced a moment with a parent that had left them very physically charged, and I wanted to offer some support for moments such as these. The Alexander Technique, from the small amount that I know, is a process of radical presence, and I thought it might help.

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radical presence

I was vulnerable presenting this experience to the teachers, mainly because from a surface view it seems largely unconnected to the work that they do as anti-bias educators. I also felt this vulnerability because this is a newer practice to me. Before I opened the schools, I was primarily a dance teacher and choreographer/performer. In the past year my work has veered back in that direction, but the two worlds have not yet found a way to formally meet. Additionally, somatic practice is so different from what people think of as “dance” or “movement”.

The day after the all staff meeting, I received a sweet text from one of the teachers, thanking me for what I have offered in terms of anti-bias coaching and exposure over the years. I was curious, and asked the teacher to clarify if she experienced the Alexander work as anti-bias focused. She said:

“It didn’t come across as anti-bias to me, but I think that’s because I didn’t have any framework about what we were doing. I needed to know what the Alexander Technique was. What it is for. Why is it an effective tool etc. I feel like the only information I got was it is about noticing. That being said, I feel like being aware of your somatic experience is a huge tool for doing anti bias work. Why does this feel triggering to me? Why is my body responding this way? But I feel like we needed more time and information to be able to use it in that way.” Such great insight and information for me as a co-leader. Thank you!

And she’s right. Being aware of one’s somatic experience is a HUGE tool for anti-bias teaching and learning. And there’s more…

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somatic experience

After my first Alexander training in October, and before this all-staff meeting, I had a conversation with Laura Czarniecki, who was the teacher who brought anti-bias to our schools in 2013. She and I have had many conversations, and a few arguments, about this work. She knows my journey in this realm: first feeling resistance to bringing ABE to the schools for fear that it would take away from what I had set out to build (the opposite happened); tentatively welcoming ABE; personally practicing ABE; engaging with my ego around ABE; the 2016 election when my white woman bandaid was ripped off; engaging with overtly political organizations and practices; feelings of intense overwhelm and ignorance; re-entering movement-based and somatic and choreographic work and simultaneously pulling back from political organizations and work.

I told her that I was thinking about doing the Alexander training for the teachers in response to their encounter with a parent, and in place of an anti-bias training. I expressed that I feel like the two are deeply intertwined and that I needed her help to articulate how and why. Laura echoed my feelings and experience over the past two to five years (from her bringing ABE to our schools to the past two years of political turmoil). We talked about how, as we trace our learning as white women, we both have discovered that at some point in our ancestral history we had been cut off from our earth-based cultures. Mine being Irish. So to clarify- at some point, someone (most likely a group of powerful white men and women) told my people that being in relationship to earth-based practices– witchcraft, herbalism, necromancy, ancestral connection, story-telling, art, dance, inner experience, gathering or rocks and gems, tarot, and on– was wrong.

Children are born knowing that these things are right on! And then this knowledge is pressed out of them bit by bit by the oftentimes mind- and intellectually-based education they are offered- ie, lacking in somatic and earth-based experiences. At some point, both Laura and I had realized that the bodies of our ancestors, and our bodies too, had been taken over by patriarchal culture (my words, not hers).

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earth based learning

This was and continues to be a paramount realization for me in my journey of learning about racism, and the very real and daily oppression that people of color, queer people, people with disabilities, women, and other minorities face on a daily basis. If I am unaware of my own body’s control and the patterns that it uses to protect itself and to maintain power over others… how can I understand other aspects of the oppression of others? If I cannot understand in my own body how to let go of power-over (whether it be power over my self or power over others) how can I understand how to help in oppressive situations?

A quote that I have been offered many times over the past year by Contemporary Alexander teachers:

“The only thing that you can offer another person, ever, is your own state of being.” -Ram Dass

And how are we to be able to offer this without practicing it? As our teacher stated above, it takes time to understand how these things connect. It takes lived, somatic experience. Against what white culture tells us about how we need to hurry up and get things done. And as the brilliant Adrienne Marie Brown shares in her book Emergent Strategy:

“Do you already know that your existence–who and how you are–is in and of itself a contribution to the people and place around you? Not after or because you do some particular thing, but simply the miracle of your life. And that the people around you, and the place(s), have contributions as well? Do you understand that your quality of life and your survival are tied to how authentic and generous the connections are between you and the people and place you live with and in?

Are you actively practicing generosity and vulnerability in order to make the connections between you and others clear, open, available, durable? Generosity here means giving of what you have without strings or expectations attached. Vulnerability means showing your needs.” 

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acts of love and resistance, being with, seeing each other

Our reclaiming of our bodies in times of stress or in all times, is an act of resistance. Thank you teachers for being so open to experiencing these moments in our staff meeting, even if you had no point of reference. I hope to continue this work with you and that it slowly informs you about yourselves, the work you do in the world, and the connections to the beautiful anti-bias experiences you offer to children and their families.

I would love to hear your comments and ideas.

That’s What Little Boys Are Made of…

Zooming in, Zooming out. From the personal to the public. From our cells to the universe. From the micro to the macro. Zooming in to capture the minute details of what we see, hear, touch, taste. Zooming out to create the whole picture again and to connect the practice to the theory, children to the world. 

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

 

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At our recent All Staff Meeting, one of our teachers shared an inspiring story. The child pictured above had been helping to build fairy houses out in the yard. The teacher, Alisha, expected the fairy houses to be used by tiny imaginary fairies. But when this child was done helping to build the house, they climbed right up and got in, and became the fairy. Or perhaps there was no process of becoming; perhaps they simply are the fairy.

Alisha then shared feelings of gratitude for being in the societal and professional role of preschool teacher. As people who work with young children, we are honored to be surrounded by those who are sensorially present, and who experience the world with immediacy. Unlike adulting, wherein people who were once children (and perhaps still are) feign to be separate from, other than, the world. Unlike adulting, wherein we get busy, distracted, and detached from wonder.

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In terms of the challenges of our year, we also touched on the challenging parts of viewing our work with children through an Anti-Bias lens. Laurie spoke about children who have behavior that feels challenging to the teacher. The anxiety of coming at a relationship with a child from this viewpoint: Something is wrong. I must fix it. Many times when we work with children who have behavior that we feel as challenging, it is easy to slip into this space of anxiety, which sometimes (without us being aware) creates psychological walls between us and the children.

Laurie spoke of how she found that she needed not to fix this child, but to expand her own capacity to see this child. Megan, referring to the same child, shared an experience of helping not only the child with challenges learn ways to adapt to the group; but also helping the group learn different ways to interact with and adapt to this child. Angel Kyodo Williams says that “Love is space. It is developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are.” What a mind-bending realization this is as a teacher and learner- to accept that our own limitations are part of the equation.  Thank you children for teaching us how to be present on this level.  This is the work.

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While we are on the subject of capabilities and expansion… It is also challenging to see and intuit the connections between anti-bias, the natural world, and art/expression. Especially with this young age group, it can be difficult, as Jackie said, to zoom in to the idea of anti-bias, after we have offered or accompanied certain experiences. For example, once we notice eye color, hair color, skin tone difference with kids, where do we go from there? How do we zoom in? How do we have the conversations with kids about linking our explorations with color and rainbows to conversations about skin tone?

There is difference all around us. There is connection between everything. The choice is to open up the possibilities within ourselves, and to see these connections, and to rejoice in them with the children. A flower is a flower is a flower… Or is it? Boys and puppy dog tails? Girls and sugar and spice?  The binary of boys versus girls? All of these stereotypes are being teased apart in our world right now. And by engaging with art, we notice the world. By looking at the world, we form a relationship to it. Look closely with children and we are doing the work. Looking closely is the work. Again and again and again.

I became really curious about the idea of stereotype while in Reggio Emilia. Nature literally holds a world of diversity and variety inside of it. People who study science are still discovering new species and there continues to be a rabbit hole of what is possible when we look inside of living things. Nature is a teacher just like children.

Why is it that we become so tight and controlled in our culture? What are ways that we can unravel this dictate and move forward towards more present life? What are the ways that you remember what matters? How do you stay present and sensate?  What are the ways that we can collectively resist the pressure to remain closed, unseeing, senseless?

Make art. Make music. Play. Breath in the scent of your children. Ride a bike. Forgive someone. Forgive yourself. Make more space. Allow more time. Choose to not care about time once per week. See another person’s eye colors- their real eye colors! Mix some paint to match it. Walk more slowly. Use your bones instead of your muscles. Let yourself make decisions in the moment. Paint. Draw. Sing. Pet a dog. Strike up a conversation with an elderly person. Listen to a child. Like really listen. Sit still for 20 minutes without doing anything. Get inside a fairy house. Be the fairy.

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We are nature. In all it’s complexity. So we don’t have to look far to understand how to connect the experience of being alive, with anti-bias work. By settling ourselves in for the long haul, we resist the temptation to give in to the dominant view that things need to happen instantaneously. By allowing ourselves time, we resist the idea that there is not enough. By accepting ourselves as we are, we create space for others to be who they are as well.

 

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Connection to nature is power. Real power. Shared power. Collective power. When we can follow children, and support their knowledge and learning, then we might see the world with them, through their connected eyes.  When we look closely, we see life, we see connection, we see beauty and it’s importance in the world, and we want to protect it.

This is what we are teaching.

Zooming in, Zooming out. From the personal to the public. From our cells to the universe. From the micro to the macro. Zooming in to capture the minute details of what we see, hear, touch, taste. Zooming out to create the whole picture again and to connect the practice to the theory, children to the world.

This is the work.

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Teacher Profile #3: Laurie Todd

What we do is transformative . The RIE motto of ‘authentic infant, competent child’ feels like such a gift – to be allowed to develop oneself without pressure from adults to always be bigger, better and faster, to have one’s competence recognized and fostered, to be able to fail without shame and to learn from those failures – all these things allow children to develop the resilience to carry them through the hard times that every life brings.

 

 

I opened Laurie’s House in September of 1993, I don’t call it a school – even though we learn a lot here!

Hometown–  First 8 years Fairbanks Alaska, then 9 years in Mt. Vernon, Washington then on to Portland for college.

Current Location–  Portland, Oregon

Job Title–  Early Childhood Educator, Family Child Care Provider/owner

Degrees/Education–  4 years History and Political Science at Lewis & Clark – pre-law – left one class short of graduating. I left because I had come out in my Junior year and was angry about many things – among them the fact that I’d spent all of my 21 years doing what other people wanted me to do. I needed time to learn who I was and read only what I wanted to read! It was a confusing and liberating time in my life.

2 years at PSU with a BA in History and Secondary Education

1 year in the Masters in History program at PSU – I was focusing on the history of child rearing

2 years for my MA in Human Development from Pacific Oaks

Age– 59

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have your own children?

I’ve been working with children for 30 years. I helped raise a friend’s daughter, but have no children of my own.

What is the story of what first drew you to work with children?

A long and serendipitous one – I had been reading Ivan Illich and John Holt’s writing on radical education, the Secondary Ed. program at PSU in the mid-80’s felt dehumanizing to me. It validated my sense that Illich’s line  “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is” was correct and that schools as institutions generally didn’t allow much room for self- discovery and questioning.

I figured ECE was more of the same but with younger children, and I was an out lesbian so I didn’t see it as a possible career. A friend had been fired from an ECE job for being a lesbian, and with anti-gay ballot measures popping up that would have restricted our ability to be licensed, I couldn’t imagine myself in this field.

Then as I was about to start grad. school and needed a part time job a friend told me that her daughter’s preschool (Childpeace Montessori) needed subs and since I was “good with children” I should apply. I thought “job from hell”, but I needed money – after my first day of work they hired me on as regular afternoon staff, and later in their new infant room. I had some good experiences there. Then friends asked me to do part time child-care for their baby – they were reading RIE and I loved it. We attended a workshop Pacific Oaks had Magda Gerber do here in Portland. At that time the college had an outreach program here, and they were offering their social and political foundations class the next semester. I saw that in addition to sexism and racism, which had barely been mentioned in my PSU classes, they were talking about classism and homophobia. I decided to take the class that Louise Derman-Sparks and Katie Kissinger were teaching, and soon realized that I’d found my people and my passion.

Is this your calling? If not, why do you do it?

Yes, my calling and my passion. I feel very lucky to have stumbled into it, having spent my 20’s searching for my right work.

Do you feel fulfilled in this work? How so?

 Yes, mostly, but sometimes there’s a nagging voice in my head that with my education I should be doing more. Some days with babies feel very long, but I like the way I am pushed to my edge and get to work through so much of my own stuff as I am with them. Early on in my learning with infants I examined that period in my own life and saw  mistakes my parents made; learning about early development and working with babies has given me the opportunity to understand and heal some of those places. I’ve always been interested in social and emotional development, and getting to spend the first three years with a variety of interesting people has deepened my understanding and appreciation of how our emotional self is formed.

I continue to grow in my ability to be patient and present with discomfort – my own and that of others. When I am not as patient, present, or gentle as I strive to be I have learned to repair the emotional wound, and forgive myself.

Tell us about the trajectory of your career. Who was helpful along the way? How do you feel like having your own children (if you have any) influenced your career decisions/aspirations/understanding/etc?

 Everyone at PO was wonderfully helpful –  some, along with friends and family, even lent me money to begin my program. Nan Narboe, whose baby I first took care of and who introduced me to RIE has been a great support and teacher along the way. She and my massage therapist have been like wise older sisters, or supervisors to me, and when I get stuck I still call them for help. My practicum students have given me the opportunity to do my best teaching; we sit on the kitchen floor and debrief – exploring different perspectives on what we and the children are doing.

 At PO I didn’t know what I was going to do with this degree, but when I started my thesis I realized that I didn’t see anyone doing RIE in a family child care environment and knew that was what I wanted. Maureen Moreland was using RIE in the program she directed at Parent Child Services, and I think there were others who had studied some RIE, but there weren’t many of us.

I taught one class a semester in the distance learning program at PO for 15 years, but after the reign of the evil college president, and when my partner became disabled, I stopped. I’ve done some teaching and workshops locally, PCC, OAEYC, and now BAB.

As my partner’s mobility impairment has increased we’ve had to make a number of expensive changes to our house and landscape. I didn’t want to move because I’ve put so much into creating this environment and making it work. Some of the changes have been great for the children; everyone loves our ramp and running up and down it at the end of the day as parents watch and visit has become a wonderful part of our culture here. We moved the sandbox to make a raised garden bed for Terri, and the new location along with the hard surface pavers we had to put in have all been positive changes.

I was lucky to have spent time learning about accessibility issues at Pacific Oaks, so I felt more prepared for some of the changes than I would have otherwise been. The children certainly benefit from having a person in their lives who uses a power wheelchair, and it’s added to our conversations about how to make the world work for everybody. As someone who’s pushed strollers a lot, curb cut activism has always been a part of my work with children!

On the downside, more of the responsibility for maintaining our home has fallen on me, as Terri has been able to do less. That’s made the time crunch we all feel, a bit tighter for me.  We’ve had to rearrange some furniture in ways that make it easier for her to move through the space, but don’t serve the child care function as well.

Tell us what your hopes for the future are. Where do you hope to be in ten years? Twenty?

 I want my body to hold up until I retire in six and a half years – yoga and other self-care are more important as I age. I want there to be more good options for infant care and I feel a responsibility (as well as financial need) to continue to provide care for two more cohorts. After I retire I want to study English and Math because I didn’t the first time through, and volunteer or do a bit of consulting, teaching, or sub work if that feels right.

What is the bigger picture for you? How do you see the work of early childhood education acting on the world?

 What we do is transformative – a couple of my first babies are out in the world now doing great work, and they’re starting from a stronger foundation than many in my generation had. We’re planting seeds to keep the good in the world going, and nurturing resilience so these children will have the inner strength to deal with what’s not good in the world. The RIE motto of  ‘authentic infant, competent child’ feels like such a gift – to be allowed to develop oneself without pressure from adults to always be bigger, better and faster, to have one’s competence recognized and fostered, to be able to fail without shame and to learn from those failures – all these things allow children to develop the resilience to carry them through the hard times that every life brings.

What is on your plate for this school year? Teaching, researching, presenting, etc.

I’m in the last year of cohort #8 and enjoying the ease of our final year together. My professional growth is to keep pushing myself to support children in areas that are uncomfortable for me – art and messy sensory activities – I’ve gotten better over the years, but this will never be my strength. My interest in social and emotional development continues to be my strength, and my curiosity about who each child is helps me guide them as they develop a sense of self and their place in the world.

How has your teaching evolved over the years? As early childhood education becomes a more honored part of our culture, how do you think this has influenced your work with children or teachers?

 Years of practice have made me more patient. I am also better able to accept and appreciate the differences in our practices – we don’t all have to be teaching the same way to be good, nor should we. I’m really interested in how differences in time, place, and culture impact the way we raise children.

 What is your advice to young/burgeoning teachers?

 Know yourself and keep learning. 

How do you help yourself relax/unwind after a long day of working with children? What helps you feel healthy and taken care of?

 Meditation, yoga, reading, listening to music and singing, walking, good podcasts

 Non-educational practices/hobbies that are important to you.

 Knitting and the things above.

Can you talk about a sacrifice or setback that you have tackled as an early childhood educator over the years?

 Dealing with paperwork and QRIS – as a person with an aversion to standardized, institutionalized education, QRIS really challenged me. I ended up having someone else finish my portfolio for me, because I couldn’t see how much of  what I was being asked related to my small in home infant program. Having had conversations with a number of people in different roles I understand the complexity of trying to improve early childhood education, but I hate it when I see good small programs struggling under rules and language that don’t fit who they are.

Last book that you read that really inspired your thinking around your work?

 Emily Plank’s ‘Discovering the Culture of Childhood’

Final thoughts: Hope, belief, love of the profession?

 I hope for the authentic self of all children to be supported and honored. It thrills me that there is so much good information about child development easily available now. Janet Lansbury is doing a wonderful job spreading Magda Gerber’s work, and the number of FB groups and web pages I see promoting play based learning, early brain development, and the need for children to live childhood at their own pace, inspire me. I am gratified to see the work being done to dismantle oppressive systems especially as they relate to early childhood. There is lots of good work to be done, and lots of good people doing it.

 

 

 

No Really, It’s That Big…

As we enter into this huge transition, into a our new US (which for some is the old US), we must view this time as a transition for emotional awareness as well. In my mind, the lack of awareness around this issue is a looming contributor to the choice that we just made as a nation. As educators and parents, we have the wherewithall to help children become accustomed to feelings as part of their bodies, others’ bodies, and the greater collective body.

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The past year has come with a heap of transition for our school. In September we began our second school year at Elm House, our program that includes children who are twelve months to three years old. There have been many tears. Children being dropped off at a new place can be challenging and full of emotion for both the children and their primary caregivers.  One of our Elm House teachers, Mage Baltes,  wrote a heartfelt and helpful piece on saying goodbye.

The idea of tears and feelings has of course come up at the beginning of the past six years in the preschool as well. And of course it comes up for each of us throughout our lives… We say goodbye to loved ones as they die. We say goodbye to those who live far away. We transition from being children to adults and we must say goodbye to our parents in a new and potentially frightening way. Or we might encounter the pain of saying a curt goodbye to those that we wish we could have loved differently.  The transitions in our worlds sometime feel painful. And unrelenting.

A preschool parent recently borrowed a book from our shelves called Tears and Tantrums by Aletha J Solter. She commented: “It was helpful in reminding me that crying, even rage, is a beneficial, inevitable release for children.” Her comment reminded me of another beautiful piece written by Mage called Connect Through Crying.

Personally, I have been trying to do more crying in my day-to-day life. A few months back I found myself cut off from my emotional self, unable to release the huge emotions that I am processing about the world (my children, other people’s children, the teachers that I care about and mentor, my impact, how to do better, be better, do more, grow more, the struggles of others, children in jail, public servants killing people, and a narcisstic misogynist running for POTUS, and now elected as POTUS- to name a few). Since, with support and love from those I trust most, I have been able to tap in to my emotions again.

This is important stuff. As adults, we are becoming more disconnected from our emotional and spiritual selves. Which makes it challenging to tap into the emotional and spiritual lives of Other.

But why is teaching children about emotions important? And is it just kind of important? Does it help just them? Does it extend into the later parts of their lives? How does it help to heal us as adults? These are some questions that I have been asking during this time.

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At our school, coaching around emotional awareness has become part and parcel of our learning processes. We say things such as, “You are feeling so sad right now. I understand. Sometimes I feel sad also.” And we will, as Mage explains in their piece, simply hold children and sit with them and honor their emotions. Afterwards we might say, “It looks like your feelings have changed. Now you feel happy!” These practices provide a process of metacognition for children- or thinking about their thinking (or feelings in this case).

Many times, we see parents out and about whose children are upset, and they are trying to help that child “get over” their emotions. I am sure all parents and educators can understand this- sometimes we want the emotion to simply go away! We want to stop feeling embarrassed by either a) our perception of how others might be viewing us at that moment (too lenient, not ‘in control’ of our kids, overly empathic, etc) OR b) our actual feelings of remorse or judgment about how our kid is ‘acting’.

Here’s what we also see and experience out in the world. Children who experience their emotions, feel connected to a parent or caregiver during that emotion, and then move past it- safely, securely, and while being loved by someone else. And I might add, with CLEAR boundaries about what is acceptable and what is not in terms of behavior.

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Let’s zoom out for a minute and look at each picture.

In the first totally understandable and reasonable situation, we have a child who is upset about something. Everybody gets upset. In this situation, this child is receiving information that leads them to believe that their emotions are not necessary. That their emotions are not worthy of time. And that their emotions are not interesting. However, when we as adults approach a child’s emotions in this way, the emotion does not simply ‘go away’. The child does not simply ‘get over’ these emotions. They are stored and reacted to within their bodies.

Zoom out more. How does this impact their relationships with others? If I can put myself in their shoes… I am receiving the information that emotions are not necessary, worthy, or interesting. If I turn that around and treat others the same way, my parents get upset with me for not caring or having empathy for others! How confusing. 

Zoom out even further… Into the future… We have children running around who are unable to effectively slow down, listen, and have empathy for the emotions of others (or themselves). The unprocessed emotions are acted out over and over again.

In the second situation, a child is able to process their emotions, in the moment. They know that someone is listening. They might feel gentle arms around them. They might see a face that mirrors their own emotions. They might hear words of understanding. “I hear you. I can understand why you are sad. You fell down and that hurt. Sometimes I feel that way too when I fall. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”

In wondering about how these moments impact a child’s relationship with others, let’s think again about ourselves. When we feel rejected in our emotional capacity, are we able to reach out to others? I can think of many times that my emotional life was rejected when I was younger. My reaction was usually to run and hide. In time that led to emotional build up, intensified emotional pain, self-mutilation, alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity and unhealthy risk-taking. How we treat young people and their emotional lives is important, not just in the moment, but as they build their futures. As we are thinking about children who are able to process their emotions, we might think of them as beacons of hope. They will be more willing to help others, to communicate their needs, to be in the moment, and to focus on what is happening in front of them. 

If we can commit to these processes in ourselves and our children, we may look far into the future.  These children are adults. Let us envision them as our future counselors, teachers, healers, leaders, and business owners. When these leaders in our community are able to live their full emotional lives, everyone benefits. 

As we enter into this huge transition, into a our new US (which for some is the old US), we must view this time as a transition for emotional awareness as well. In my mind, the lack of awareness around this issue is a looming contributor to the choice that we just made as a nation. As educators and parents, we have the wherewithall to help children become accustomed to feelings as part of their bodies, others’ bodies, and the greater collective body. This is happening on a mirco level, with the relationships that families members have with each other. And when we teach our children to extend this knowledge to others, to treat others as a communal family, we have the opportunity to extend it to the macro level, allowing it to blossom out to more and more people. Empathy, concern, compassion, relating, forgiveness, and the offering of information are all part and parcel of this work.

When children learn how to feel, we all benefit.

Thanks for reading!    -Sarah Lu

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Matters of Opportunity… Does Opportunity Matter?

It is interesting to think about where our emphasis lies as co-learners (and by this I mean as adults who work with children, in place of the word teacher).  Does it lie in skills acquirement- physical, cognitive, etc?  Or does it lie in depth of connection?  Are we fundamentally learning, along with young children, to operate on the surfaces of reality? Or is our job to learn, alongside children, the many different layers of being alive?

 

These are some questions that I jotted down in a moment of deep frustration as we attended last year’s conference with the Oregon Association for the Education of Young Children. I was reflecting on a juxtaposition that I had encountered at the conference for the previous day. The Opal School was presenting this year. They hold many workshops and a symposium at their school each year, but it was the first time that they had chosen to present a workshop at the OAEYC conference.  Because I have been to many an Opal School Symposium in years past, I decided that I would not attend their workshop at the OAEYC conference. However, I found myself in a workshop that I could not sit through, and for the first time I purposefully left a workshop halfway through.  From there, I went to the Opal School presentation. There I was satisfied with stories of children’s learning that captivated my heart, and reflections by teachers who were invested in their children, their journeys, and the poetry of their work. This difference was intriguing to me- one workshop that I could not stand to sit through, and another that captured my heart and mind.

I wrote: It seems that we have become so culturally obsessed with the fragmentation of everything in our paths, and that our job as teachers who are creative and “deep thinkers” (more on this later), is to resist fragmentation of our selves and our communities. And especially the fragmentation of the growth of our children. 

(Today I would add that it is our job as Feminisists, Progressives, and Activists…. to return our world to a balanced and loving state.)

These two moments of reflection led me to question what we are really doing as teachers. When we use the term co-learner in the field of Reggio-inspired learning, what do we mean?  If we are co-learners, then we are learning alongside children… and the implications for society are two-fold, not only afecting the children but ourselves as well:

1- If we are teaching children to live on the surfaces of reality, then we too, are being trained by ourselves to live on that surface. We are training not only our children but ourselves, to disconnect. If we are disconnected, then we do not care.

2- Likewise, if we are teaching and learning in this way, children do not care.

Think about those outcomes…

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Vea Vecchi, one of Reggio Emilia’s great thinkers and atelieristas, offers the following:

Each discipline- or rather language- is made up of rationality, imagination, emotion, and aesthetics. Cultures which rigidly separate these qualities and processes of thinking inevitably tend to subtract part of the processes from the various disciplines or languages. They recognize the rational part of an engineer, the imaginative part of an architect, the cognitive part of a mathematician, the expressive part of an artist and so on, in simple categories.

In this act of fragmentation and exclusion of some of the processes which, I repeat, belong to our species’ way of thinking and constitute a biological inheritance that is probably ancestral, cultural resources are effectively diminished and there is a consequent impoverishment in the overall quality of concepts and thinking.

Rationality without feeling and emptahy, like imagination without cognition and rationality, build up partial, incomplete human knowledge. 

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At the conference I also noticed the apparent difference in the quality of the minds and thoughts of the educators who were present.  The threads ran deep and wide.

I am struck by the general carelessness of many educators’ approaches to young children and the work that we do. Or perhaps it is the lack of time that we allow for reflection, so that all of our time is spent trying to get somewhere, and then where are we? Are we so rushed that we cannot slow down to express, question, become?  

How much of carelessness is the result of not being cared for? I had a conversation about these matters with a friend recently and she brought up the idea that some of us are “deep thinkers”. Some of us are poetic. Some of us are musical. Some of us are… fill in the blanks. Which leaves the assumption that, well, some of us are not. This is a comforting thought, if you are one of those “deep thinkers”.  But as I was speaking with her I questioned this. What if it’s just a matter of opportunity? What if that line of thinking (some have got it, some don’t) is a systemic way of maintaining the status quo- of maintaining this patriarchal, animus-oriented collective pysche? What if we as a world, have so much unlocked potential, that to experience it might be world-changing?

I mean, at the risk of sounding too optimistic, what if it’s about opportunity?

I see teachers who, when posed with the idea that a young child may have “rights”, roll their eyes. I gather that these people have never felt that same respect as a child or as an adult, and that perhaps the poetic voice inside them has never been given any length of rope. 

Children have the right to play, to explore, and to learn by doing. They have the right to become deep thinkers… no quotes.

Children need what we rarely give them in school – time for Messing About. – John Holt
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Have we lived in a time before when Art equated to life? It is happening now inside certain educational philosophies, inside certain communities. I am hopeful that this is the way the world is turning. The education of people is so much bigger than lines on paper or the unfortunately fragmented thinking that happens in so many schools.

The atelier, that creative mind-set or the phycial studio, is a small fraction of our classroom. AND, our whole classroom is the atelier, is the studio, is that frame of mind. We are works in progress, as is our world. Play teaches us that we have choice, opportunity.

The atelier is a small fraction of our world. AND, our whole world is the atelier, is that mind-set, is the studio. Children, people, need choice, need opportunity, to play, to think, to Mess About. Many children do not have this opportunity. Much of our thinking becomes fragmented early on in life. Let’s think about who that helps.

We have great power as teachers, parents, caregivers- to learn alongside with children about our individual voices, our collective voice, and our right to become poets.

Perhaps with this lens, we can feel fulfilled again as a collective. Perhaps we can breathe through the fear of not having enough. Perhaps we can gain the opportunity that we all deserve- to be free, to play, to create, and to be whole.

Journals from the Atelier

My life as an artist and creative thinker, feeler, mover… has greatly influenced the way that I view the process of working with young children, their families, and other educators. I do not work with children in the classroom as an atelierista. Yet still I claim the identity of Atelierista because of my roots in the arts. My strength lies in connection, creation, and collaboration- my internal atelier.

These journals are a series of reflective writing pieces on our profession, interviews with early childhood educators, and my work with the teachers at Tulip Tree Preschool and Elm House. Enjoy!